Thursday, September 04, 2008
Earlier this year, I was browsing over at Amazon.com and had some time to kill. So I decided to check my personalized recommendations - an operation that could last up to three days thanks to the varied selection of Christmas albums I've purchased there over the years.
After flipping through several dozen Christmas CDs I already owned, this CD came into view and I was stunned. For those of you not familiar with the artist, you're probably thinking "just another Christmas CD". However, I sat up in my chair and queried "Mr. Everybody can SING???"
Fred Travalena was born in The Bronx on October 6, 1942 and raised on Long Island. He signed on as a teen with the U.S. Army and served in Special Services where his singing garnered him an "All-Army Entertainment" award for best singer!
However, Fred's mimicry of celebrities caught the attention of audiences. This led to his big break in 1972 when ABC picked him as one of several impersonators (Charlie Callas, Rich Little, Frank Gorshin, and Marilyn Michaels) for a new show entitled "ABC Comedy Hour Presents The Kopycats".
This brief but memorable show led to Fred becoming an opening act for Shirley MacLaine in Las Vegas for several years in the late 1970s to early 1980s. Whenever I watch my collection of "Vega$" episodes (guilty pleasure), Dan Tanna eventually drives by a Vegas marquee of MacLaine & Travalena in the background.
Fred soon began appearing on "The Tonight Show", "The Merv Griffin Show", "The Mike Douglas Show" "Fantasy Island", "Late Night with David Letterman" and hosting a brief TV game show called Anything For Money in the mid-1980s. He continued to appear in night clubs, casinos, and telethons with big names like Jerry Lewis and Sammy Davis Jr.:
By the late 1980s, Fred's voice soon began appearing on cartoon shows such as "The Smurfs" and "Super Mario Brothers". He continued to appear in front of the camera with game show appearances on "Password Plus", "The New Hollywood Squares", and "Match Game 1990".
He also began producing and appearing in his own cable specials. "The Many Faces Of Fred Travalena" and "Comedy In The Oval Office" were both nominated for Cable ACE awards and the latter special led Fred to appear at the 1989 Inaugural Ball of George H.W. Bush.
Throughout the 1990s, Fred kept busy by appearing on television ("Beverly Hills 90210" and "Walker Texas Ranger" where he played Ross Perot!), recording and producing his first full album of original songs "We All Need Love Today", and appearing in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and his beloved hometown of New York City.
It was in NYC near the turn of the century that Fred turned his eye to Christmas. He had previously written one original song called "Christmas In Manhattan". This song got some strong airplay during the Christmas seasons of 1998 over the Music Of Your Life radio stations. Travalena decided to write 10 other original songs for one Christmas album, all dedicated to the city that never sleeps.
1.) Lady Manhattan
A pretty song to lead off. You decide:
2.) Son Of Santa
The only song on the CD that features any sort of impersonations (DeNiro, Pesci, The Rat Pack) - my favorite!
3.) Manhattan Love Affair At Christmas
Whoaaa... a Latin bossa nova Christmas love song set in Manhattan? BION, it works!
4.) Last Minute Shopping
Manhattan Transfer-like harmonies are a highlight in this uptempo bouncy song.
5.) The Other Side Of Christmas
Imagine if Sinatra sang a saloon-style Christmas song. It would end up sounding like this.
6.) Christmas On Broadway
Big band Christmas swing with a dash of Gene Krupa for flavor - Fred's really can belt!
7.) When It's Christmas In NY Again
Okay, the drum machine and the obvious contemporary beat are a little disconcerting. I'm taking a pass...
8.) Christmas In Manhattan
The song that started it all. Michael Feinstein has incorporated this one into his own act because it's a perfect ode to the Big Apple at holiday time.
9.) Christmas In Old New York
A WALTZ? Travalena gets away with it thanks to his competent songwriting and singing!
10.) When Snow Falls In Central Park
The "grand finale" showcases everything Christmas and Manhattan's crown jewel.
11.) The Christmas Pup
A dog rescue set at Christmas - Travalena sings, then storytells his way through this one. For dog lovers only.
I'm very torn on this album. Fred has written some wonderful tunes and his singing is very impressive - it doesn't get much more Christmas than this. However, I was hoping for some more comedy or impressions. And perhaps my affiliations with Chicago cloud my judgement.
The bottom line is a master impressionist who started his career as a singer could have taken the easy way out and recorded standards a la Sammy Davis Jr. Travalena wrote every stinking note and word on this album, got some great arranging with different types of tempos and styles, and sang his heart out on from beginning to end.
For that, I would recommend this album to any Christmas music enthusiast in New York or anywhere. Considering this album was released one year before the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center, this album takes on a wee bit more special meaning.
Leave 'em laughing: